Creating Events That Stick in Your Mind

with Carol Gillenwater of Corporate Meetings Unlimited

In mere minutes, the room that CMU president Carol Gillenwater is in will be filled with a corporate group of 250 people. Her team runs last-minute checks on temperature, lighting, sound, and more.

In today’s struggling economy, many companies are cutting back or eliminating their corporate meeting budgets, but Corporate Meetings Unlimited (CMU)—a full-service meetings and events company based in the Houston suburb of Woodlands—is rising to the challenge with several well-defined tactics designed to deliver an ample return on investment (ROI) and return on objective (ROO). “ROI and ROO are common buzzwords in the meetings industry, and all planners pay verbal homage to them,” says Carol Gillenwater, president of CMU. “But, there is frequently a significant divide between understanding their vital roles in event planning and production, and bearing the responsibility of building them into the structure of each event.” To ensure that this happens, Gillenwater says CMU uses several key formulas. Here, she took time out of her busy schedule to share them all.

1. Do Your Homework

CMU begins by identifying the client’s core messages, and then develops a targeted plan to achieve them. Typically, this involves holding initial meetings to identify clear objectives, preparing the audience for program content by suggesting selected premeeting reading materials, or conducting a premeeting online attendee survey.

2. Deliver the “Wow!” factor

“All other strategic planning practices in the world will not overshadow the need to deliver the ‘Wow!’ factor,” says Gillenwater. “It is what really brings the entire event home.” According to Gillenwater, this can consist of the excitement of the host city, the venue, the creativity of the staging and audio-visual production, the dynamics of the speakers and entertainment, or even the delivery of the content itself.  “Whatever it is, however, it serves as long-term reminders of the meeting or event,” Gillenwater says.

3. Seek Feedback

Obtaining feedback during the meeting is also important. Gillenwater notes that “an audience response system that collects and instantly projects feedback on-screen allows presenters to reassess and make adjustments.” Another effective approach is having a videographer on hand during breaks to ask attendees what they have learned and what other subjects they would like addressed. “We can then start the next general session or the closing session with the video so that management can respond,” Gillenwater says. Small breakout sessions that connect senior management with employees in an open question-and-answer format are other excellent vehicles to collect feedback. Gillenwater says it’s important to get feedback after the event as well as during the event. “We can place a short questionnaire on attendees’ seats in the closing general session or conduct post-event surveys online,” she says.

4. Manage the Budget

Budget is on everyone’s mind these days, says Gillenwater, so she tries to communicate that meetings and events that target well-defined short- and long-term objectives are not luxuries but investments. “Meeting cutbacks satisfy the immediate mandate to rein in expenses, but in doing so, throw down what can be the most productive and effective method of communicating a company’s message and direction, as well as educating its employees,” she says. When a client holds a meeting, then measuring ROI should be an expectation. To do so, Gillenwater says it’s essential for meeting planners to create a meeting budget, manage the budget through the planning and delivery process, prepare a post-meeting budget analysis, and evaluate the achieved objectives against the event budget.

5. Keep Learning

Not everything happens in the meeting room. According to Gillenwater, it’s important for meeting planners to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to venues and topics. To that end, she and the team at CMU regularly travel to other locations to identify and investigate new or newly renovated conference centers and hotels. They interview potential speakers, entertainers, local activities, and destination managers. Also, the CMU staff read industry journals and attend industry conferences to stay on top of trends in regard to venues, services, contracts, and the like. These strategies have allowed CMU to thrive, even in today’s tough times. The company opened its doors 20 years ago, and since that time it has produced meetings and events for small organizations and Fortune 500 companies in virtually all market segments across the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Europe. “Corporate meetings and events are an integral part of our clients’ business strategies, and we accept the responsibility to approach each with a full understanding of the clients’ objectives, audience, and budget,” Gillenwater says. “As a result, our clients know we can deliver strategic meetings for which the ROI and ROO can be measured, which is why 85 percent of our business comes from repeat clients.”